Thou Shalt Not Kill
June 18, 2020 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
For the bulletin each week in 2019, I wrote about one or more questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, unpacking the teaching of all 107 questions in one year. Those articles are still available on our website. This is an adaptation of the Catechism’s teaching on the Sixth Commandment. Here I incorporate the Larger Catechism’s teaching, which goes further than the Shorter (as you would expect). The Catechism’s teaching on the Ten Commandments is fruitful for understanding biblical ethics and God’s will for our lives.
WLC 134: Which is the sixth commandment? Answer. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.
WLC 135: What are the duties required in the Sixth Commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the Sixth Commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physical, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.
WLC 136: What are the sins forbidden in the Sixth Commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the Sixth Commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
Did you just read those answers? Read them slowly. They are long, complicated sentences, but a lot is packed into these statements. The Catechism exposes us to the depth of God’s heart behind the brief command, “Thou shalt not kill.” In all of his commands, God is seeking to draw our attention to his holiness, the measuring bar for our holy living. There are both requirements and restrictions which each command. The Catechism, with its format of asking two questions for each command, highlights this.
At face value, the Sixth Commandment forbids murder. The Catechism uses the language of the King James Version when it quotes Scripture. The English Standard Version translates Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” This is a better translation as it communicates more closely the intent of the command. Not all “killing” is prohibited. For example, capital punishment (Gen. 9:6) and just war are not forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.
The key word for understanding the meaning and intent of this command is the word “unjust” in Q. 135. God forbids “the unjust taking away the life of any.” Kevin DeYoung extrapolates this further, “It prohibits killing or causing to be killed by direct action or inaction any legally innocent person.” This definition explains the various Old Testament laws about our responsibility to make sure our property does not cause the death of another (i.e. an ox goring another, Ex. 21:29).
As with all the commandments, it’s important to understand God’s heart behind it. As the introduction of capital punishment in Genesis 9:6 explains, every single human life is valuable because he/she is made in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). This is the foundation of what we call the sanctity of human life. In fact, Scripture even teaches that it extends to unborn lives (Ps. 139:13-16). All human life is precious in God’s sight. Therefore, any form of taking an innocent life is forbidden. This includes suicide, abortion, and euthanasia. Some debate the ethics behind these life-taking actions, but there are no circumstances that warrant the breaking of God’s moral will.
For many of us, the requirement of the Sixth Commandment ends here. Jesus, however, demonstrates that this Commandment encompasses more than murder. He says in Matthew 5:21-22, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Jesus reveals that our words and attitudes can be destructive of human life just like murder.
The Catechism picks up on this and highlights many other ways in which we destroy the lives of others: “the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge… provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding.” This is humbling. If we are honest, we are guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment most every day.
Our words and actions ought to preserve life (Eph. 4:29). The Catechism gives us direction on how to preserve life: “by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil.” This is a highly practical and actionable list of what we can and should do today.
Let’s be people who love our neighbor by striving to preserve life.